12 Questions For 12 Practices: Ivy Champions Open 2014 Spring Session
The reigning Ivy League champion Princeton football team will open its spring practice season Friday. Here are 12 questions that Princeton will try to answer over those 12 practices, as well as a schedule of Princeton's 2014 spring season.
1) How hungry is the hunted?
Princeton has come into the last few springs off either a losing season, or a season that fell apart in the final month. It’s not hard to find motivation coming off years like that. Now Princeton is entering the spring as the reigning Ivy League champion; will that affect the level of work? Head coach Bob Surace has been thrilled by the winter workouts, and he’ll hold these next 12 practices to the highest standards.
2) Who will Reid the opposing offenses?
Nobody. Caraun Reid was a finalist for National Defensive Player of the Year and Princeton’s second ever invitee to the Senior Bowl. No single player will replace his production this spring, but defensive co-coordinator and line coach Steve Verbit will see who can fill the voids left by Reid, as well as classmates Greg Sotereanos and Matt Landry. It was the lone senior-dominated position for Princeton last season, and it’s going to be one of the most watched areas this spring. Rising sophomore Ty Desiré is certainly one player to watch, especially in pass rush situations.
3) What can Brown do for you?
He can certainly inspire. For the first 14 games of his career, Khamal Brown was Princeton’s top cornerback. He suffered an aneurism during practice the week before the 2013 Brown game, and he hasn’t played a down since. He was cleared to begin practice this spring, and he joins an already-loaded defensive backfield, including First-Team All-Ivy honoree Anthony Gaffney and sophomore classmate John Hill, who was among the Ivy leaders in passes defensed last season. If Brown can shake off the rust quickly and return to his prior form, Princeton could have one of the best trios in the FCS, much less the Ivy League.
4) Who will be the last line of defense?
Phillip Bhaya was more than a captain; he was a two-year starter at safety and one of the most physical forces on the field. His graduation opens the door for a few players to line up next to Matt Arends, including backup and return specialist Max Lescano, as well as freshman Dorian Williams, who thrived as a freshman at the nickel corner spot. With Brown’s return to the cornerback position, the defense could look at Williams at safety, where he would bring a similar level of physicality to the one Bhaya brought. James Gales and Marcus Phox are two other freshmen to watch.
5) How do the young linebackers look?
They weren’t the focal point of the defense, but freshman linebackers like Rohan Hylton, Luke Catarius, Brannon Jones, Scott Northcutt and R.J. Paige all had valuable roles either in the rotation or on special teams. While both Mike Zeuli and Garrit Leicht will return for their senior seasons, the defensive coaches will be looking to see if anybody makes a big push for either more time or a starting spot on the weakside, where senior Alex Polofsky started last season.
6) Who will be the center of attention on offense?
For 38 of the last 39 games, Joe Goss was the first Princeton player to touch the ball for the offense. He saved his best season for his last one, when he joined junior Spenser Huston on the All-Ivy League First Team; no other Princeton offensive lineman had earned that honor since 2000. With an offense based on pace and communication, Goss was invaluable. Joe Tull was a starter on the offensive line last season, and he spelled an injured Goss in the season finale. He will probably get the first look there, but offensive line coach Eddy Morrissey enters this spring with his deepest set of experienced linemen during his time at Princeton.
7) How many quarterbacks will we see in a single play this spring?
It can’t be more than 11. That’s a penalty. But offensive coordinator James Perry and his fellow coaches have had four months to tinker with a system that both rewrote the Ivy League record book and drew national attention. Obviously, we won’t see the fruits of that labor until an unsuspecting defense lines up on a fall Saturday, but it’s fun to picture what might be coming.
8) Will a young skill player make the leap?
There were several highly touted members of the Class of 2017 that were expected to make early contributions on the offense last season. There were glimpses of brilliance from running backs Joe Rhattigan and A.J. Glass, but quarterback Chad Kanoff and a quartet of rookie receivers were just caught behind upperclassmen who produced a historic season. These guys know the offense far better, and have a full offseason of workouts in place; they should push the starters and add options to an offense that rarely seemed to lack them last season.
9) You probably didn’t know Des Smith last spring. Who don’t you know right now?
Only the most passionate Princeton football fans likely knew the backup tight end to Mark Hayes. Smith was used in a handful of packages, and while the coaching staff appreciated his blocking skills, it didn’t exactly make him a local celebrity. He burst on the scene his senior season, catching a handful of critical — and spectacular — touchdowns en route to an All-Ivy honor. Two potential candidates for next season are Robby Templeton (wide receiver) and Luke Merrell (linebacker). Surace has been impressed by both over the winter, and both are healthy and ready to cap their careers with breakout seasons.
10) Can the team stay healthy?
Obviously, that question faces every team in the country, and there is no way of answering it beforehand. But the next football team that goes through a full season without injuries will be the first one, so this coaching staff knows it needs to ensure that the “next man up” is ready to compete for an Ivy League championship this fall. Arguably the greatest asset that Surace has brought to Princeton over the last four years is depth, and he’ll be looking for that depth to develop even more this spring.
11) Who will captain the ship?
Princeton has announced its upcoming captains over spring ball recently, and this year shouldn’t be any different. Over the last two years, the likes of Mike Catapano, Andrew Starks, Caraun Reid and Phillip Bhaya have helped transition a 1-9 program into an Ivy League champion. There is no shortage of quality juniors that could be trusted to handle the responsibilities for the 2014 season.
12) Will the rings fit?
While there is a lot of work to be done this spring, there will also be time for celebration as well. The Tigers will receive their 2013 Ivy League championship rings following the April 19 Spring Game. It was a championship journey they began with a productive spring last year, and it’s another they hope begins today.
March 28 • 3-6 pm
March 29 • 10-12 pm
April 1 • 4:40-6:40 pm
April 3 • 4:40-6:40 pm
April 5 • 10-12 pm
April 8 • 4:40-6:40 pm
April 10 • 4:40-6:40 pm
April 12 • 10-12 pm
April 15 • 4:40-6:40 pm
April 17 • 4:40-6:40 pm
April 19 • 10-12 pm (Spring Game)
April 23 • 4:40-6:40 pm